WR Donell Wheaton

2004 Statistics

Coach: Mike Sanford
1st year
2004 Record: 2-9
at Tennessee LOST 17-42
at Wisconsin LOST 3-18
at Brigham Young WON 24-20
at Utah LOST 28-63
at Colorado State LOST 10-45
at San Diego State LOST 3-21

2004 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2005 Outlook

Something had to give - after just two wins, and with no prospectus for team improvement(s), UNLV made a great move in hiring Mike Sanford to his first head coaching job. Sanford brings his dynamic offensive mind, his amply qualified résumé (both at the collegiate and NFL level), and quite a few of those assistants who were stellar from his last assignment (as Utah’s OC). His choice of new coordinators will make for interesting water-cooler chat, but suffice to say that the quality of his entire staff should herald a new, revitalized era of Rebel football.

Most will be wondering if, now that he has left the mentoring mind of Urban Meyer, he can reproduce the same eye-popping results found in last year’s Ute squad. Former-Gator QB Noah Brindise, now an experienced QB coach (NFL), assumes Sanford’s old role as a capable offensive coordinator hungry to impress. Brindise’s experience under Steve Spurrier as a player means he will be able to truly embrace both the thrust of Sanford’s “shotgun spread” offense as well as its many subtle possibilities. Now, they just have to make it all work with what they have inherited.

Accordingly, it all comes down to discipline – they have to make the already-qualified talent play to its potential. All of the ball-handlers will have career campaigns, but it will be the injured line that makes or breaks the team’s success. Assignments in the shotgun spread will take time to be embraced, making mid-October the soonest we see the entire offense finally being on the same proverbial page. And don’t be surprised when the QBs are shuffled to see which can make this revamped yard-gaining machine run best.

After holding just five foes under 25 points, it is the defense that genuinely needs the most attention. Vic Shealy will coordinate the back eight of his modified 3-4 (which is really a 3-3-5) well, so it is the prowess of the run-stopping unit that will be the Rebel’s most pivotal concern. Experience on the line will help, but the green LBs will (if it happens) be the defense’s undoing.

Four of UNLV’s first five games are on the road, but without any jump in the entire slate’s competition level, the Rebel’s schedule is rather convenient for a revamping squad. Breaking .500 is probable – but, with most jumping to conclusions after their opener at New Mexico, wait until the first three or four in October to judge where the Rebels should wind up. Soon enough, eventually though (and it may take until next season), foes will hope that the city’s latest marketing slogan holds water: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…but ESPN won’t allow that to happen, huh Bugsy.

Projected 2005 record: 4-7
DB Joe Miklos
QB - 2.5 DL - 2
RB - 2 LB - 1.5
WR - 2 DB - 2.5
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Shane Steichen, 187-92-10, 1011 yds., 7 TD

Rushing: Erick Jackson, 31 att., 154 yds., 2 TD

Receiving: Alvin Marshall, 37 rec., 437 yds., 1 TD

Scoring: Sergio Aguayo, 11-15 FG, 27-27 PAT, 60 pts.

Punting: None

Kicking: Sergio Aguayo, 11-15 FG, 27-27 PAT, 60 pts.

Tackles: Joe Miklos, 86 tot., 44 solo

Sacks: Leon Moore, 4 sacks

Interceptions: Jay Staggs, 2 for 35 yds.; Joe Miklos, 2 for 79 yds.

Kickoff returns: Erick Jackson, 10 ret., 20.7 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: Donell Wheaton, 19 ret., 5.9 avg., 0 TD


OFFENSE: Earvin Johnson-WR, Joe Critchfield-OG, Marcus Johnson-C, Kurt Nantkes-QB, Dominique Dorsey-TB, Dyante Perkins-RB
DEFENSE: Brian Nicholson-DE, Reggie Butler-OLB, John Andrews-OLB, Adam Seward-ILB, Ryan Claridge-ILB, Terrence Young-LB, Ruschard Dodd-Masters-CB, Charles Ealy-CB, Jamaal Brimmer-SS, Gary Cook-P

The new coach comes in from being Utah’s OC, so the system is changing and the QBs will be prototypically similar to Alex Smith and his capabilities by campaign’s end. Enter Shane Steichen, a junior, who has a new lease on his career at UNLV – this tall, bulked up drop-back guy, who was marginal (at best) as a replacement starter, has made amazing strides toward becoming multi-dimensional in his ability. He ran a 4.6-second 40 yard dash in spring, and Mike Sanford thinks he can easily make their “shotgun spread” offense work. His numbers in the spring game prove such, but Sanford is not convinced, yet. Jarrod Jackson is a highly accomplished (21-2 as a starter), speedy JC transfer who, so far, has also shown the ability in this scheme to succeed. The offensive unit has only picked up about half of what this entire intricate system has to deliver, so Sanford is waiting until about two weeks out to name the first game’s starter. The results will be mixed at first, but will turn deadly once things are grasped.

Running Back
Former walk-on Erick Jackson, now a junior, will pick up the mantle and keep the 37th-best rushing attack on target. At 5’6”, many won’t realize the power he carries, which also makes him a quality blocker, a role which will be expanded, for sure. Jackson’s off-season work has paid off, as he definitively won the starting spot with an excellent spring. Ohio State-transfer JaJa Riley is a larger, upright-running back who is still bouncing back from 2004’s season-ending knee injury. Another factor should be Ronnie Smith, a transfer (Nebraska) who has speed (4.35) and first-step quickness that no other Rebel has. Using the QB as a distraction, this unit will really take off and (at least) hold its own as the new system is truly embraced. Without a FB, we will see just how often the H-back joins the backfield lineup. Until then, the RBs are good enough to be the distraction as the shotgun spread finds its way.

Injuries have jumbled the depth chart, but most of the role-players here are known. Senior Alvin Marshall missed spring (viral infection), but is expected to lead the Rebs again as their main receiver at H-back once healthy. Junior Donell Wheaton had a huge spring – his leadership qualities will be needed, and he is a deep threat that must be marked. Other injuries are keeping several known talents out of the mix (Kirkland), but it is the influx of freshman that brings the most promise. Coach Sanford believes any of the new three could start if they can grasp the system quickly enough. With three (and four) receivers on the field at all times, it will be a rapidly developing unit that should surprise many.

Tight End (U-Back)
This is a hybrid position that will thrive in this ever-morphing scheme. Senior Michael Freund will continue to break out of his blocker mold. Soft-handed, 6’8” senior Greg Estandia will try to bounce back from both the wrist injury that held him out last season and the shin problems he has more recently encountered. Most feel Estandia is pro material (John Mackey candidate if healthy), and this new offense will prove his versatility and worth.

Offensive Line
This is an area of major concern. Spring ball took four of the top upperclassmen out of commission, and there is barely enough new blood to fill the gaps. The most needed return is that of junior RG Marco Guerra (knee), though his backup (listed as senior Zach Gorham) is another stud that can hold his own when healthy (ankle), possibly at tackle, too. Jesse Knight has made major progress since moving over to tackle from his TE spot, and coaches feel his spring has proven his starting qualities. Center and left guard prospects are not quite as strong as those already listed, but developments of the team’s depth means that, once healthy, this line should not be beaten very often. Mobility will be key, so with a good mix of size and speed with which to work, watch Sanford retain the guys who exhibit the best footwork.

With all of Mike Sanford’s successes at Utah, the shotgun spread is all the rage in Sin City. Due to the addition of Noah Brindise, too (the new OC and QB coach), any prior offensive category rankings go out the window. Steichen is deceptively quick, though not a blazer, but with his vision of the entire field, this well-sized hurler will continue to build upon his strong spring. Either of their capable QBs should excel in the shotgun spread. The biggest concern surrounds the line, where there are several major components that need repairs. Also in the shop are a few of UNLV’s main receivers, but the RB transfers will step up and the run will (eventually) open up the pass. The coach’s assessment is that about half of the new scheme has been mastered, so expect growing pains to suddenly become efficient efforts that make many struggling talent position players into heroes. The TEs will play a pivotal role - if you follow their numbers, they will reflect just how well the entire offense is doing.


TE Greg Estandia


Returning Starters in bold
QB Shane Steichen-Jr (6-4, 200) Jarrod Jackson-Jr (6-1, 205)
TB Erick Jackson-Jr (5-6, 180) JaJa Riley-Sr (6-2, 210)
UB Chad Henley-Sr (6-1, 245) James Kraham-Jr (6-2, 260)
HB Tremayne Kirkland-Jr (5-11, 155) Alvin Marshall-Sr (5-10, 190)
WR Donell Wheaton-Jr (6-0, 185) Shelvion Williams-Jr (6-3, 210)
WR Casey Flair-Fr (6-1, 185) Marques Johnson-So (6-3, 210)
TE Greg Estandia-Sr (6-8, 255) Michael Freund-Sr (6-3, 245)
OT Brandon Gray-Jr (6-4, 315) Chris Bowser-Jr (6-6, 285)
OG Aaron Mueller-Jr (6-2, 290) Mike McKiski-So (6-6, 310)
C Tim Goins-So (6-4, 280) Kea Toledo-Jr (6-4, 290)
OG Marco Guerra-Jr (6-5, 315) Zach Gorham-Sr (6-5, 315)
OT Jesse Knight-Sr (6-4, 285) Marcus Bryan-Jr (6-4, 300)
K Sergio Aguayo-So (6-1, 200) ..



Defensive Line
The school’s modified 3-4 alignment will see two of three returning to what was the 72nd-rated run stopping unit, so experience has to equal improvement. Howie Fuimaono is a huge plugger who moves well for his mammoth stature, making foes put two hats on him. His numbers don’t jump out, but Fuimaono’s impact will again be felt, as will backup Isaiah Tafua’s, a JUCO-transfer who is quicker than Fuimaono. Local (Rancho) product Leon Moore, now a senior, will lead this group with all-around abilities that can often end up befuddling a pass or causing a fumble. Moore has eyes in the back of his head. Mario Hill rounds out this group of upperclassmen, making this seasoned crew even quicker. Hill will also have a breakout campaign; underestimating any of these hogs will be a mistake.

UNLV finds these positions totally vacated. Beau Bell, the sophomore brother of now-departed Zach Bell, excels in both run-stopping and coverage. This former-RB represents the best (returning) talent, though former JUCO all-American Dan Catalano should shine as well. Matt Pattison, the Reb’s strongside starter and listed as backup in the middle, is another all-around athlete who will minimize any lull due to departures. The rest of the crew are similar in size and speed to these three (all around 6’3” and 225 lbs.), but injuries would impact what this unit can deliver.

Defensive Back
This area is to be led by “left” safety Joe Miklos, their senior ex-LB with four forced fumbles from ’04. His size means he matches up well, but it is Miklos’ sure-fire tackling that the team will “Rebel” in most. Miklos leads the D by example - through his 60-minute play-making efforts. Senior Will Tagoai seriously re-injured his knee in spring drills, so his spot is being relegated to junior transfer Nate Kenison and ex-WR Jay Staggs. Kenison cut his teeth on two prep national championship squads (De La Salle), while Staggs had two of the team’s six INTs. John Guice is the most anticipated of the four transfers who are likely to shore up the CB spots. What seemed like a talent drop-off, the corners are now looking to be a strength. Nickel-guy Chanti Bloomer is an ex-point guard who will team experience with on-field vision to keep plays in front of him. This unit has to improve its INT:TD ratio (6:21), which it will under new DC Vic Shealy’s keen watch.

Vic Shealy takes over, but creativity within the Rebel’s 3-4 alignment (really a 3-3-5) will continue to reign supreme. A 3-4 at its base, their every-down nickel-back puts another DB regularly in the mix. And with guys like Miklos and Bloomer, along with their many multi-purpose LBs, subtle shifts in how all 11 line up will keep opposing offenses guessing. The secondary has to learn the art of keeping plays in front of them so that their efficiency ranking (78th) outshines their overall pass defense (52nd). Accordingly, the DBs cannot get caught up in providing too much help for the new LBs underneath. The line can hold its own, and since Shealy is a maven of pass defense(s), expect the Rebels to have the discipline needed to achieve what we’ve outlined. As Shealy and Sanford re-proportion the team’s -5:08 time-of-possession differential, foe’s fourth-quarter scoring will continue to struggle for optimal results.


DE Leon Moore


Returning Starters in bold
DE Leon Moore-Sr (6-5, 285) Isaac Watts-Sr (6-2, 280)
NG Howie Fuimaono-Jr (6-0, 335) Isaiah Tafua-Sr (6-2, 295)
DE Mario Hill-Sr (6-2, 260) Faauo Faga-So (6-3, 270)
SLB Matt Pattison-Jr (6-3, 225) Bobby Kelly-Sr (6-2, 225)
MLB Dan Catalano-Jr (6-3, 230) ..
WLB Beau Bell-So (6-3, 230) Omega Faga-Fr (5-10, 230)
CB Ernest Gordon-Jr (6-1, 170) E.J. Whitley-Jr (5-9, 170)
CB John Guice-Jr (5-9, 180) Narcus Wesley-Jr (6-0, 190)
LS Joe Miklos-Sr (6-2, 210) Jeff Brown-Fr (6-1, 185)
RS Jay Staggs-Jr (6-1, 215) Nate Kenion-Jr (5-11, 210)
NICK Chanti Bloomer-Sr (6-0, 195) KC Asiodu-Fr (6-3, 220)
P Brian Pacheco-Jr (5-11, 200) ..




Sophomore Sergio Aguayo broke many of UNLV’s freshman kicking records, and his consistency will again be needed during this transition phase. With such explosive offensive production expected, Aguayo is ready to be the deciding factor in a few tilts. Coverage will improve with so much new blood from top to bottom. New special teams’/LB’s coach Kurt Barber comes in with Sanford directly from covering the same duties at Utah, making us confident that results, too, will follow.

Junior Brian Pacheco, a second-team NJCAA all-American, is only the second scholarship punter in a decade at Las Vegas. With their improvements in coverage, the Rebels will ride his booming leg (46 ypp) to better net results.

Return Game
Donell Wheaton will be in the mix for both return spots, but he will be displaced by the return of Tremayne Kirkland (separated shoulder), UNLV’s 17th-ranked PR man from ’03. Erick Jackson will improv his KR average, with a healthy Alvin Marshall used as insurance of such.